CO DOWN’s Conor Swail came within one round of winning the five-star the $406,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, last Saturday night. In the end, he was pipped to the post by Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt at the end of the class.

Week five saw the first five-star take place and the crowds flocked to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre for ‘Saturday Night Lights’ at the venue. Some 40 of the world’s best show jumpers lined out to take on Kelvin Bywater’s big 1.60m track.

In the end, eight riders from seven countries made it through to the jump-off. Germany’s Daniel Deusser was first to go against the clock and despite posting the fastest time of the class, the last fence fell meaning his would have to settle for fifth place.

As the third to return, Canada’s Mario Deslauriers and the Wishing Well Farm LLC’s 13-year-old Holsteiner mare Bardolina 2 were the first pair to go double clear, setting the standard in 45.16.

The lead continued to change hands in quick succession, and just when it seemed Conor Swail would add another victory to his growing collection, Weishaupt determined the final result. He held the optimum position as the last entry to return and piloted the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding Coby 8 (Contagio x Escudo 19) straight to the top, clear in 40.96 seconds.

“I know how fast my horse is, and after many years of experience I know how quick I have to go to beat the time,” said Weishaupt. “That being said, I think all of us are very lucky that Daniel Deusser had the last jump down, because otherwise it would’ve been game over for all of us.”

Weishaupt is at WEF for the first time this season, alongside his Irish teammate at Beerbaum Stables, Eoin McMahon.

“Competing here feels a bit like being at home in Europe actually,” Weishaupt added. “I feel like all of my colleagues from there are here now as well, and it is definitely not easier to win here than it is back home. We saw incredible sport tonight, and the atmosphere here is stunning. You feel the whole crowd behind you, and what makes that crowd here special is that they’re all really close with horses. They sometimes call out, ‘Whoa, whoa’ because they see a distance before you even see it. So it’s fun to jump in here and have such a crowd behind you.”

Good form

Swail’s efforts were good enough to keep the runner-up title and earn just over $73,000. The ninth-ranked rider in the world and the 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding Count Me In (Count Grannus x Sherlock Holmes) produced a time of 41.42 seconds.

“This was his first start of 2022, so I was a bit unsure about him going straight into the five-star,” commented Swail. “He jumped incredibly well, and as far as the jump-off goes, I think if I had to do it again I would’ve done a better job. I had too many steps in the beginning, was good through the middle, and then I am not sure what I was doing at the second last… so second is probably a fair result I would say!

“I am delighted with the horse, and obviously it was a fantastic result. Kelvin [Bywater] built quite a nice course today. He asked enough questions without making it super difficult.”

Swail has been enjoying an exceptional run of form from the end of 2021, having won the FEI Jumping World Cup at Fort Worth in December and the three-star $138,600 Sun Air Jets 1.55m Grand Prix just last week in California.

Is he aiming for the number on spot? “I wouldn’t say I am going after number one particularly. I would like consistency; the ranking is a by-product of being consistent, and that is what I’m aiming for,” said Swail. “I have a great group of horses at the moment, and they are giving me great chances to do well, and thankfully I am benefitting from that. Last week helped, this week will help as well and long may it last!”

USA’s Brian Moggre slotted into third place with Ann Thompson’s 16-year-old Oldenburg stallion Balou Du Reventon when clear in 41.58 seconds.

“What a great way to start out the season for Balou as well as myself,” stated Moggre. “This was our first five-star competition since last fall, so it was really an eye opener.”

Irish placed

Two Irish riders placed in the top six of Thursday’s $75,000 Adequan WEF Challenge Cup. Cian O’Connor was among five double clear rounds to slot into fourth place with Ronnoco Jump Ltd’s Carruti Van Ter Hulst Z (0/0 40.81).

Mark McAuley posted the fastest time of the class in 37.55 seconds with Jasco vd Bisschop but picked up four faults to finish sixth. Victory went to USA’s Adrienne Sternlicht with Benny’s Legacy (0/0 38.60).

Andrew Bourns was best of the Irish in Sunday’s final five-star class, the $75,000 1.50m championship. The Galway rider was double handed in the jump-off and eventually finished sixth and seventh. He picked up four faults on both his mounts – recent four-star Grand Prix winner Sea Topblue (0/4 36.72) and Darquito (0/4 36.76).

America’s Kent Farrington landed the victory with Easy Girl when best four clears in 37.27 seconds.

Jordan Coyle was third in Wednesday’s five-star 1.45m two-phase class aboard Elan Farm’s Boston Ask. Some 18 combinations produced double clears in the class; Coyle broke the beam in 31.88 seconds. Bourns was sixth with Darquito, clear in 34.00, while victory went to Israel’s Sydney Shulman with Villamoura when she was the only one to break the 30-second mark in 29.89.

Adding another good result to his week, Derry’s Jordan Coyle slid into second in Friday’s 1.45m with position Elan Farm’s nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Ballyoskill Big Bucks (Royal Concorde x Lux Z), who was bred by Killian Dunne. The pair were just behind Canadian winner Erynn Ballard and Nanini van d’Abelendreef (0/ 57.82).